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Andy Warhol Museum won't be taking Mao silkscreen on the road

| Thursday, April 18, 2013, 11:50 p.m.
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A woman in Sotheby's auction house views an artwork by Andy Warhol entitled 'Chairman Mao' on May 18, 2012, in London, England. The Pittsburgh Warhol Museum says it will not be displaying the colorful silkscreens of Mao for which Warhol is known in a traveling exhibition in China this year. GETTY IMAGES

Marilyn Monroe, ooh la la. Chairman Mao, no, no, no.

When an exhibit of art from Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum opens in Shanghai on April 28 and Beijing in September, colorful silkscreens of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong will be conspicuously absent. Visitors still will be able to ogle Monroe and Jackie Kennedy.

“We always knew the Maos would be up for question based on the political climate,” said Eric Shiner, director of the museum on the North Side. “I didn't want politics to enter the equation such that we were putting the entire exhibition in jeopardy because we do want to share Warhol's work with people in China.”

Shiner denied numerous press accounts around the country calling the absence of the Mao silkscreens in China “censorship” because, he said, he made the decision. But newspapers such as the New York Times said officials in China's Ministry of Culture objected.

The Warhol is exhibiting more than 300 paintings, photographs, screen prints, drawings, 3-D installations and sculptures as part of the largest retrospective of the Pittsburgh-born artist in Asia and the first in China.

The exhibit debuted in Singapore from March to October with crowds of 40,000 a month, said Ronald Gruendl, spokesman for BNY Mellon, which is supporting the tour. While on display in Hong Kong from Dec. 15 to March 31, the exhibit had more than 100,000 visitors.

“We're not going to comment on the Chinese government's decision,” Gruendl said.

Shiner said five Maos were on display in Hong Kong, and four will be exhibited next year in Tokyo, the last stop on the tour. He said the Warhol did not show any Maos in Singapore because of a ban against displaying any political figure in art.

Neither the Chinese embassy nor the Ministry of Culture responded to inquiries.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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